In a very welcome view and temperature, the Misano circuit was basking in bright sunshine for the start of the premier class show. With the tarmac burning more than at any other time in the weekend, a few more questions were asked of tyre choice but the answers did not seem to make that much of a difference to the script of the play.
The appointed favourites rose to the challenge but only two of them saw the checkered flag with a smile on their face, Andrea Dovizioso radiating after utterly dominating proceedings. The Italian ran away with the big trophy after a clear home win – his first at the circuit and making it three in a row for Ducati for the first time in a decade. Marc Marquez looked like a safe bet for a sixth consecutive podium and late heartbreak for Jorge Lorenzo allowed him a safe second, ahead of a lucky but there-when-it-mattered Cal Crutchlow.
Poleman Lorenzo had made an excellent start, keeping Jack Miller at bay while Marquez swiftly recovered the deficit from qualifying to engage in battle with Dovizioso. The familiar duo demoted front row starter Maverick Viñales early on and Dovizioso in particular was determined not to let his teammate make an escape at the front. Alex Rins, Crutchlow, Valentino Rossi, Johann Zarco and Dani Pedrosa were following the leaders without making any big moves yet.
Marquez barged past Miller on the second lap to immediately start pursuit of the factory Ducatis, who were pulling away by almost a second. The Spaniard was immediately on red hot pace but Miller could not keep up with the world champion and crashed out by the end of that very lap. That left Viñales to stalk the podium but the Yamaha man was once again suffering in the early stages of the race and had dropped a second behind the three leaders. Rins felt like Viñales was holding him up and picked up the lead of the chasing group, which also included Crutchlow, Rossi, Pedrosa and Morbidelli. Crutchlow soon made it past Viñales, in an almost synchronised move with Pedrosa on Rossi.
Despite being glued to the back of his leading teammate, Dovizioso did not attempt an attack until the start of lap six, as he was getting pressured from behind by the world champion. As the Ducatis were swapping places, Marquez was sizing up the prey, no worries yet from behind as the pack led by Rins was two seconds back. That chasing group was quickly dissolved by the Yamahas lacking few tenths, with Rins and Crutchlow running away from Viñales by over a second, while Pedrosa – stuck between the two Yamahas – was eager to get past his sluggish (compared to race pace) compatriot as well.
Back at the front, the three favourites were holding station and Marquez kept his cards close to his chest but alarm bells started ringing as Lorenzo was losing some ground to his teammate, the gap getting to a full second. Whether it was strategy or a real tyre wear issue, Marquez did not let Lorenzo tempt him and allowed Dovizioso the one second gap, but the future teammates were not letting the distance get much bigger.
Halfway into the race, Marquez lost patience and took Lorenzo’s invitation in turn 14 but the championship leader was left with a 1.8 second gap to Dovizioso and not really shaking off the other pesky Ducati. Crutchow was best of the rest, three seconds down on the podium battle and having gotten the best of Rins, whose soft tyre issues started early. The Suzuki man was stuck in no man’s land, another two seconds ahead of the Yamaha-Pedrosa sandwich.
Despite Lorenzo’s rear tyre looking a bit second hand, the Spaniard was keen to retaliate on his compatriot, who was not making any impression on the leader. Temptation was too high and the duo were not keen to surrender, their close exchange allowing Dovizioso to make a serious escape. Meanwhile, the quickest man on track was Crutchlow, who was bringing the gap to the leaders down to two seconds as well.
With nine laps left, Marquez’s tight line no longer halted Lorenzo’s persistent advances and the Ducati picked up the task of chasing down his teammate once again. Feeling confident at the front, Dovizioso slowed down the pace a little, allowing the gap to drop to two seconds, dangling the carrot in the face of the two feisty Spaniards but it was still too much time to make up for the duo. A lonely Crutchlow looked to be settling for fourth, with Rins seven seconds back but still holding back the threat of Viñales, both Spaniards on the risky soft rear.
The final five laps saw the gap at the front finally drop under two seconds, once Marquez stopped his attacks on Lorenzo and allowed his rival some space to pull back Dovizioso. Although the gap was still significant, the chasing duo dipped into the 1:32s for those final laps and posted their fastest laps of the race, just enough to give a hurry-up to the Italian.
Despite the delicious prospect of last lap war, Dovizioso had it under control all along and kept his rivals at bay to the flag, ultimately pressurising Lorenzo into a late mistake on the penultimate lap, the poleman crashing out at turn eight, leaving Marquez to cruise home in second and promoting Crutchlow to an unlikely podium. Rins was best of the rest in fourth, while the Yamahas never turned up to the party as promised, Viñales crossing the line fifth, Pedrosa’s sixth separating him from teammate Rossi in seventh place, almost 20 seconds behind the winner. Some fairly anonymous rides from Andrea Iannone, Alvaro Bautista and Zarco completed the top ten.
Dovizioso’s commanding victory combined with Lorenzo’s disappointment and Rossi’s anonymity makes him Marquez’s main rival in the title battle once again, albeit 67 points behind the reigning world champion. Rossi drops to third, with a 70-point deficit, while Lorenzo is fourth, 91 points down.
|23||23||Christophe PONSSON||Ducati||1 Lap|
|6||Stefan BRADL||Honda||10 Laps|
|44||Pol ESPARGARO||KTM||10 Laps|
|10||Xavier SIMEON||Ducati||25 Laps|